FireWorks for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Northern Cascades - M06: Ladder Fuels and Fire Spread: The Tinker Tree Derby
Course Type: FireWorks activities
Availability: Public access
Author(s): FireWorks Educational Program
  • Ilana L. Abrahamson
    US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program
Date Created: December 19, 2017

Cataloging Information

  • fire spread
  • ladder fuels
  • succession
Partner Site(s):
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: February 17, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 25523


Lesson Overview: In this activity, students use a physical model to learn how the vertical arrangement of fuels affects the potential for fires to spread into tree crowns. This activity applies mainly to forests, shrublands, and woodlands. It is especially relevant to ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir forests in the northern Rocky Mountains and North Cascades, where surface fires have been excluded for nearly a century.

Lesson Goal: Increase students’ understanding of the relationship between fuel arrangement and vertical fire spread, especially in forests, shrublands, and woodlands.


  • Students can design a model tree that can keep a surface fire from spreading into the crown.
  • Students can differentiate between forest stands based on the spatial arrangement of fuels.
  • Students can describe the kinds of fuels that contribute to surface fires and crown fires.